May 11, 2010 — On May 23, Matt Miller will stroll down the University of Virginia's Lawn with his friends and girlfriend and thousands of classmates, surrounded by family members and professors. It's a big day for anyone, but for Miller, just being alive is a gift.
On Nov. 2, 2008, while training for a triathlon, Miller lost control of his bike on the Blue Ridge Parkway and swerved into oncoming traffic, flying face-first into a car. He has no recollection of the accident or the following days.
Luckily, Mark Harris, an anesthesiologist at Martha Jefferson Hospital, was in the vehicle behind the one that struck Miller and stopped to assist. Harris was able to open Miller's airway and get him breathing again. Every bone in Miller's face and his right hand was broken and doctors at the University of Virginia Medical Center suspected a brain injury, but he did not suffer any spinal cord injuries.
Not only did Miller miraculously survive, but he made a full recovery from a crushed face and the threat of serious brain damage – and remained on schedule to graduate with his class.
Many people read about Miller's miraculous recovery in a three-part story by Michael Vitez last June in the Philadelphia Inquirer, later republished in the Charlottesville Daily Progress (parts one, two and three).
Miller, a native of Radnor, Pa., says he received a lot of positive feedback from people who read the articles, including some who said they shared the article with their children and sick relatives as a source of inspiration.
Even while still in the hospital with his jaw wired shut, Miller continued to demonstrate the same work ethic that brought him success in his academic and athletic endeavors. He signed up for classes for the spring semester and studied for exams.
"It gave me something I could focus on," said Miller, a history major who somehow finished the fall 2008 semester with straight A's.
He also signed up for races shortly after his accident to establish recovery and training goals. The accident did have an effect, however, on his training regimen; Miller now trains on bike paths or indoors and races only when the roads are closed to traffic to prevent causing worry for his family and friends.
Miller credits the University community for supporting him. "I can't say enough about the support I got," Miller said, noting that his classmates, professors and family were a huge part of his recovery.
Equally important were the doctors, nurses and medical support staff who cared for him at the U.Va. Medical Center. Miller actually knew one of the U.Va. doctors before the accident, having shadowed Dr. John Hanks, chief of surgery, for the previous year to learn about the medical field.
Miller and his girlfriend of 4½ years, Emily Privette, also a graduating fourth-year at U.Va., will both attend medical school at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. "We are beyond excited," Miller said.
Though only about 18 months have passed since the accident, Miller's daily life closely resembles his pre-accident life. His dental work is nearly complete after frequent trips to Philadelphia to see his doctors.
One change from the accident, Miller says, appears in his perspective.
"It made me focus on what's important in life," he said. Rather than getting down after a poor training session, Miller says he now appreciates the fact that he's alive and healthy and can train and compete again. He also appreciates his friends, family and physical health more now, he said.
Miller said he will greatly miss Charlottesville, but looks back fondly on his years at U.Va.
"I owe a great deal to the University and it will always have a special place in my heart," he said.